Pubdate: November 5, 1998
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Section: B - Page 01
Copyright: 1998 The Washington Post Company
Author: Steve Twomey


Inside a computer, inside the Board of Elections and Ethics at One
Judiciary Square downtown, "lies the answer," Alice P. Miller said

The question is whether it should be legal to use marijuana for
medical reasons. It was on the ballot Tuesday in the District, just as
it was on the ballot in Arizona, Nevada and Washington state.

They know the answer in those places by now. Their citizens went to
the polls and expressed their wishes, and computers counted the
ballots and spit out the results, and the answer was yes in all three
states. In the District, citizens went to the polls and expressed
their wishes, and the computer counted the ballots but didn't spit out
the results, because Miller didn't ask it to do so.

Miller, the election board's executive director, might be dismembered
or dispatched to a concentration camp if she asked. Okay, not quite.
But Miller hasn't asked because it might not be politically healthy
for District officials and other living things to know the outcome of
the city's Initiative 59. There's Bob Barr, after all.

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr., as you might be aware, is a very
conservative, anti-Clinton Doberman whose Georgia constituents once
again lost their grip on reality Tuesday and rewarded the Republican
with a third term as a leader of the nation.

But that's democracy, a wonderful thing.

Barr, we presume, endorses democracy. Maybe, as I do, he gets teary
about it occasionally, about freedom and the will of the people. If
so, he probably gets teary only to a point. That point is the District.

He sponsored an amendment, which passed, that bars the District
government from spending money on any ballot initiative that would
"legalize or otherwise reduce penalties" for the use of marijuana.

I have no opinion on whether marijuana ought to be legalized to ease
the suffering of those with serious illnesses. I simply haven't
thought much about it. But I would note that two of the states that
said yes Tuesday -- Arizona and Nevada -- will never be mistaken for
summer camps for Che Guevara's descendants, so the notion can't be
written off as liberal orthodoxy.

But inhaling for any reason apparently offends Bob Barr. He couldn't
stop Arizona, Nevada or Washington from dabbling in such outrageous
democratic exuberance as holding a referendum on the question, which
must have been frustrating. But he could stop the District, because
Congress can do anything to the District.

And does.

Sure, that power is in the Constitution. That doesn't make it right,
no more than it was right to make powerless Americans out of women and
blacks, which the Constitution also did, until modern wisdom set in.
How do these out-of-towners make peace with their consciences when
they do this sort of stuff? They rail about Cuba, Iraq, China and all
the other dictatorially smothered establishments, and then turn around
and vote with Barr to deny half a million Americans in the national
capital the simple privilege of deciding for themselves whether to
ease a local drug law for humane reasons.

No democracy for you.

At least Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), one of the chief agents of
absentee rule, paid the ultimate price on Tuesday.

There is a God.

Because of Barr's amendment, the election board decided not to print
and release the results of the initiative, fearing Congress might
construe that as spending money. Even having printed the initiative on

ballots could be so construed, although Miller noted yesterday the
board hasn't paid for the printing yet. Even having had the computer
count the results could be so construed, although Miller indicated
that cost was near-zero. Who knows, maybe Barr will go after Miller
for talking with me, because she's paid with government funds and was
discussing the verboten initiative.

"We can't do anything that might attempt to defy the will of
Congress," Miller said by phone.

So we have a situation in which the people have voted fairly and the
votes have been counted fairly, but the whole thing's been impounded
immediately, lest the city feel the wrath of the House of Lords. You
know how, in Third World nations, outside observers are called in
sometimes to help the locals vote fairly and freely? Here, the locals
are fine. It's the outside observers who've stolen the election.

"We think it is an outrage," Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the
local American Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday.

The ACLU is fighting on a couple of fronts, having filed suit Friday
to prevent Congress from nullifying the initiative results and filing
a Freedom of Information request yesterday to force the Board of
Elections and Ethics to hand over what are clearly public documents,
namely, the election results.

For its part, the board is planning to ask a federal court for a
ruling on what it should obey, Barr's amendment or provisions giving
District residents the right to vote on initiatives.

You'd think the computer at One Judiciary Square was loaded with
anthrax or sarin, instead of election results. What's Congress afraid
of? Free will? 

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Checked-by: Rich O'Grady